With the Islanders official training camp opening on Thursday morning, what are the big headlines, stories, and questions surrounding the team ahead of camp?
Let’s start up front on the top line.
With who and where does Mat Barzal play?
Isles superstar Mat Barzal played center for all of his career until the Islanders brought in centerman Bo Horvat mid-season. Barzal slid to Horvat’s right side, where they had great success before an injury that ended Barzal’s regular season. When he returned for the playoffs, Bo and Barzy couldn’t find their magic from a few months prior.
So, Lane Lambert has a massive decision. He can either pair the two together again on the club’s top line or place Barzy back in the middle of the ice and create some major line scrambling trying to find the right pieces.
Now, who plays on the vacant wing? It seems like it is really only between a few guys. Anders Lee is the favorite to start on Horvat’s left side, as Lee and Horvat played well together last year, but could the Islanders go with Oliver Wahlstrom‘s shot in a make-or-break year for Wally? We shall see. Both make sense for Lambert.
Now onto the back end…
Do Pelech and Pulock stay together?
For many points last season Lane Lambert broke up the infamous P and P pair defensively. With youngsters like Noah Dobson and Alex Romanov (who will begin training camp on IR) ready to take the next step, do Pelech and Pulock stay together, or could we see Dobson jump up to Pelech’s right side on the club’s premiere pair. Lambert has a few weeks to mess around with that.
Is Sebastian Aho a lock for the opening night lineup?
Sebastian Aho had quite an underrated season a year ago. His defensive game struggled at times, but he was terrific in transition using his high-end speed. He also had some success in the offensive zone and on the rush. Can he take another step after his first full-season pro?
To the middle of the lineup…
Does 18-29-21 find success again?
You can really make the argument that Pierre Engvall had more of an impact on the Islanders last season than Bo Horvat. Engvall immediately gelled with Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri on the Islanders second line. Pierre re-vitalized Nelson’s season and pushed Palmieri to his best level of play he’s had on Long Island. Now the question remains, can they find that level of play again at camp, and will they stick together with a pretty crowded middle-six forward group?
Can’t forget about the identity line or what’s left of it
Does the line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck roll out for their 9th season together, or do younger, quicker players like Hudson Fasching and newly signed Julien Gauthier end the 4th line’s reign?
What about the kids?
Can Isles top prospects William DuFour and Matt Maggio make a run at a roster spot? 19-year-old blue liner Isaiah George impressed at rookie camp. How long into training camp can he last? Can Simon Holmstrom take the next step in his career?
Who’s in the blue paint?
Well, it’s pretty certain who the Islanders tandem will be for next season and really the next few years, but who are the younger net-minders that can have good camps? Tristian Lennox is a big, strong goaltender out of the Ontario Hockey League. The Islanders are also high on Jakub Skarek. You can expect that to be your tandem in Bridgeport.
We won’t have full answers to these questions until opening night on October 14th, but we can speculate you will slowly find these answers once camp continues to roll on after it opens up tomorrow morning.